The Oakland Raiders’ 2016 season has seen a whirlwind of events. From the beginning of the regular season, head coach Jack Del Rio brought forth a risky, but business-like approach for the guys on the roster to emulate. Thus far, it has led to the Raiders’ first winning season since 2002, when they went to the Super Bowl.
However, the three units for the Raiders have been showing varying results. The offense, which is ranked fifth in the NFL, has been stagnant since Derek Carr dislocated his pinky finger, while the special teams have had some blunders and penalties of late.
On the other hand, Ken Norton Jr.’s defensive unit has gone from starting the season in awful fashion to competing at a high level. Once the team past the halfway point of the regular season, the defense has improved with each and every week.
Although the Raiders lost their Week 14 matchup to the Kansas City Chiefs, the defense held their opponents scoreless in the second half and three of the four quarters. The defensive ends, linebackers and defensive backs have all emerged during crucial points of the games to make stops.
While that is a sight to see for Del Rio, the head coach stated that it is all about honing it in and making consistency out of it in the long run, via Raiders.com:
“I think we’ve been really good in key moments. We’ve been able to close games. We’ve been able to get off on third down. We’ve been able to do things like that, so not all we’d like it to be. I think that rush and coverage go hand in hand. We really haven’t had the effectiveness of the interior push with a couple of guys that are pretty good at it that haven’t been available. That’s one area where we could benefit by getting a little more interior push.
Earlier this week, Norton Jr. also addressed the defensive pressure, stating that getting pressure on the quarterback is the next big leap for the defense.
The Raiders are currently tied for 28th in the NFL with their 22 sacks on the season, with 16 of those coming just from Khalil Mack (11) and Bruce Irvin (5).
Del Rio has always stated that championship-caliber teams need to improve upon each facet of the game, even in areas they believe they are fine. While Mack is on pace to record his ninth straight game with a sack, his effort alone isn’t enough to help.
The head coach of the Raiders would go on to get into specifics on the pass rush. Del Rio felt that the exterior rushers (Mack and Irvin) have been doing great off the side. However, the interior pass rush needs to improve dramatically.
During the same press conference, he ended the talk about improving sack numbers by stating that it is an area he sees the team addressing before the end of the regular season:
Coach Del Rio: “Same thing. We’re working on everything. I’m not putting my head in the sand on anything. As a team, we want to continue to improve as we go throughout the year. We’re identifying some of the areas where we want to see ourselves grow. I think it’s fair to say that’s one of those areas. We expect to be better as we go and that’s one of the areas we expect to be better in.”
The interior pass rush will be without a key player, as Stacy McGee has already been ruled out for the Week 15 contest. During their last contest against the San Diego Chargers, McGee forced a lot of interior pressure and came away with 1.5 sacks.
With McGee out, expect some pressure inside from Darius Latham and James Cowser, who recorded his first career sack in the Week 13 contest against the Buffalo Bills.